Rasam, a tamarind-based spiced broth, has always held a place at my Tamil family's table for as long as I have known. Poured over idlis (semolina cakes) or vadas (crispy fried lentil donuts), mixed with rice and eaten with assorted South Indian vegetable side dishes, or used as a liquidy accompaniment to yogurt rice (yet another essential staple of the South Indian table), it is an incredibly versatile food loved by many South Indians. Rasam, in many ways, is a cultural phenomenon as well. There is a common joke that you have won the right to call yourself South Indian if you have mastered the art of eating rasam and rice on a banana leaf, the notoriously slippery plate of choice used for large religious or cultural events in South India.

I don't belong to that fan club.

It isn't that I have a dislike for all things tamarind (as my mother does, making her a bit of an anomaly in my very traditional Tamil extended family), nor do I dislike all things spice (I'm the type who will add extra jalapenos to "hot" salsa), but given the choice between rasam and other South Indian dishes, rasam isn't quite what I would gravitate towards.

However, it's my food of choice when I'm sick. 

The spice blend in rasam, when paired with chopped cloves of garlic and strained tamarind and simmered on the stove for about an hour, is magical when it comes to soothing a throat sore from nasal drainage and opening up inflamed, congested nasal passages and sinuses. I mean MAGICAL.

Scientific evidence suggests that this isn't just the placebo effect at play here.

Several recent papers suggest that rasam, when incorporated as part of a healthy diet, is effective in controlling blood sugar levels, combating anemia when the tamarind base is fortified with iron, keeping things moving in your colon, and fighting off several common types of disease-causing bacteria, including, but not limited to, S. aureus and E. coli. More recent research as of last year suggests that the complete rasam broth is capable of interfering with cell cycles by preventing cell division and growth and hastening cell death, which may make it a good component of cancer treatment plans.

With all of these health benefits, you might be wondering the following:

1. Why on EARTH have I been mucking around with 1000mg Vitamin C packets this whole time?

2. How do I make this?


Image from WikiCommons

Now you're thinking, perhaps this girl is about to let us in on her family's secret recipe... not so fast. Secret recipes are secret for a reason. But if you want to incorporate this cold-busting food in your life, you can try the recipe listed here as a starting point. All the ingredients can be easily found in any local Indian grocery worth its salt, and you can also find readymade rasam mixes to speed up the process.

Bhageerathi Ganesan

To be quite frank, rasam can be made almost any way you like it.

One of the aforementioned reviews lists about 20 examples of rasam with different modifications to the spice blend and stock base, and I could rattle off about 20 more apart from those listed. Heck, every family has its own way of making rasam! Rasam is a food that is inherently regional and extremely adaptable to different tastes and flavor profiles across South India. As pan-Indian and pan-Asian flavors rise in popularity across the Indian subcontinent, this humble South Indian broth has been showing up on restaurant menus all across India!

Rasam has traversed the globe as well.

It became the basis for the British soup mulligatawny in the late 1700s and has become an inspiration for some other decidedly innovative fusion dishes within the past decade as well, like this rasam mushroom risotto (which I personally think is a stretch, but hey, I guess you can't knock it 'till you try it):

(The video above is in Hindi, but as a non-Hindi speaker myself, the recipe is still relatively easy to understand thanks to the captions for each step.)

Hopefully this has given you some more inspiration for your sick meals or even your weekly dinner rotation. From easy to elegant, rasam is my ultimate South Indian sick meal that can double is comfort food.

Happy cooking!